Francesco Laporta could be forgiven if he thought he was dreaming on Saturday as he raced to a course-record equalling nine-under-par 63 in the third round of the Golden Pilsener Zimbabwe Open.
He matched the great Nick Price’s 1998 best score around Royal Harare Golf Club as he stormed into a share of the 54-hole lead at 13-under-par 203 in the Sunshine Tour’s R1.65-million event. “Ah, that’s cool,” he said when he was told whose mark he had equalled.
He and Fichardt held a three-stroke lead over third-placed Lindani Ndwandwe, with Jake Roos a shot further back on 207, and Ulrich van den Berg and Louis de Jager were in a share of fifth at eight-under-par 208.
“That was so good,” said Laporta. “I had a chance for birdie on just about every putt, and I made just one bogey on eight. The other 17 holes – perfect, every shot perfect, every putt perfect!”
The 22-year-old who plays out of the San Domenico Golf Club in Bari in the south of Italy turned pro at the beginning of the year on the strength of finishing 30th at the Sunshine Tour Qualifying School, and he made his first cut as a professional in this tournament.
“The one time I missed the cut by one shot,” he said, “and after my first round 74, I knew I had to play better.” He did that with a vengeance, not dropping a single shot on his way to a 66, equalling his best score as a professional.
He will be up against the wily Fichardt in the final round, and he will have to keep his wits about him. “This is the first time for me, leading a professional tournament,” he said.
Fichardt, on the other hand, will build on his third-round four-under-par 68 to push for his second victory of the year.
His 68 came after a start that had a surprising two bogeys in the first four holes. “I started horrendously,” he acknowledged. “I had a few bad breaks, bad bounces, hit a few trees, but that’s the way it goes. You’ve got to hang in there and wait for the birdies to start coming again. I know I’m playing well, so it was all a matter of time.”
He made sure Laporta would not get too far ahead with four birdies in five holes around the turn, and then joined the Italian in the lead with a birdie on 18 built on the back of a perfect tee shot and an accurate approach.
Ndwandwe, who has two Sunshine Tour titles to his credit, had a real run at pulling clear on the front nine with four birdies. But three bogeys after the turn slowed his progress, and three birdies kept him in third.
“My short game is good – my chipping always is,” said Ndwandwe. “The putting is okay now that I have decided to stay with the short putter, but, in the end, this game is all in the mind.”
That’s what Laporta is going to have to keep telling himself as he duels with Fichardt for the title in the final round.